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Season of the Witch: Enchantment, Terror and Deliverance in the City of Love
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Season of the Witch: Enchantment, Terror and Deliverance in the City of Love

4.21  ·  Rating Details ·  2,876 Ratings  ·  514 Reviews
In a kaleidoscopic narrative, bestselling David Talbot recounts the gripping story of San Francisco in the turbulent years between 1967 & 1982—& of the extraordinary persons who led to the city’s ultimate rebirth & triumph.

Season of the Witch is the first book to fully capture the dark magic of San Francisco in this breathtaking period, when the city radically
Hardcover, 480 pages
Published May 8th 2012 by Free Press (NYC)
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Jun 13, 2013 Fern rated it liked it
I was excited to read this book about the history of San Francisco-focusing in on the period between 1967-1982. I grew up in the city during this time and was curious to see what Talbot would have to say about the era.
While I appreciated the writing and personal narratives from famous San Francisco characters (oh how I miss Herb Caen!), I found the book to be pretty narrow in it's scope-Basically, its white scope.
While Talbot plays lip service to the African-American community in the Filmore and
Christopher Enzi
May 09, 2013 Christopher Enzi rated it really liked it
WOW! This dazzling page turner tells much of the history of San Francisco during the time I've lived here. From 1966 in the ramp up to the Summer of Love through the Big Gay Immigration boom which brought me here in 1976 through drugs, politics, sex, cults, murders and scandals, this book gets to the heart of the matter.
When people hear that I lived here in the 1970s, before AIDS was on anyone's radar, their ears prick up as though they were about to hear a dirty joke. Sure, there were orgies an
Apr 16, 2013 Ann rated it liked it
It wasn't always peace and love in San Francisco. Or actually - ever. The hot second of 'gentle people with flowers in their hair' quickly gave way to a myriad of social misery - overdoses, VD, abandoned children, racism, AIDS, murder, manslaughter, etc. The problem was the myth we sang about far outlasted the reality we experienced - I had completely forgotten about the connection between the Jim Jones' mass murders and the Moscone-Milk murders a week later, for example. The book reminds us of ...more
Dec 22, 2012 Richard rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Richard by:
This is a sometimes heart-wrenching and sometimes ecstatic narrative of the dramatic era that brought San Francisco through some incredible times and changes.

I can't say it any better than this review: San Francisco’s Darkest Hours: The founder of Salon takes a fascinating tour of the Golden Gate City, 1967–82.

If you love San Francisco — or you're interested in rock 'n' roll, gay history, traumatic 70s racial politics, or even the 49ers football team, you'll probably find this book riveting.

Mal Warwick
Sep 19, 2013 Mal Warwick rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
It’s difficult to imagine any city in North America that has experienced such a short and intense period of tumult and terror as did San Francisco from the mid-60s to the early 1980s.

The Summer of Love. The racist Zebra killings. The People’s Temple mass suicide. The assassination of Harvey Milk and George Moscone. The onset of the AIDS epidemic. And the Grateful Dead, the Jefferson Airplane, and Janis — oh, the music!

You can’t make this stuff up.

For those of us who lived through this era in and
Kasa Cotugno
Most of the events occurred in the decade before I moved to San Francisco, but the effects of these upheavals were still felt and formed the structure and personality of the city I lived in for 10 years, and even that time in which I inhabited it can be looked upon with nostalgia since there has been yet another upheaval, shifting the city again. So I was glad to read this book and learn more about events that shaped the City I knew.

Talbot gives in depth accounts of the people and the forces th
Jay Hinman
Mar 29, 2013 Jay Hinman rated it did not like it
It was with much anticipation and excitement that I started former editor David Talbot's 60s-70s-80s history of San Francisco, "SEASON OF THE WITCH", and with much disappointment and disgust that I slammed it down thirteen chapters later. No, I did not finish the book. I'd never get those hours back, and alas, neither will I get back the four or so hours I invested in those 13 chapters. I believe that I can successfully and accurately review the book anyway, and hopefully talk you out ...more
Sian Lile-Pastore
Feb 24, 2013 Sian Lile-Pastore rated it it was amazing
lordy, this was bleak. it's about san francisco from the late 60s to the early 80s, so i was prepared for the murder of Moscone and Milk and the rise of AIDS, but I was not prepared for zebra killers, jim jones, patty hearst and all the deaths from hard drugs. I was relieved when i got to a couple of chapters on american football which i didn't really understand or care about, but was light relief from everything else. I was not looking forward to reading about AIDS either, but actually, it was ...more
Worth the read for the panoramic and general tour of San Francisco's history, from 1930-1989, Talbot introduces a cornucopia of cast members against the ever abused imaginary stage of San Francisco's past.

Despite his floundering attempts to add depth to his ever expanding cast of characters, Talbots writing is a lesson in binarism and blindness. But even as cliche-filled, linguistically stunted and intellectually-numbing as Season of the Witch is, I had a hard time putting it down for its Da Vin
May 07, 2013 Adam rated it really liked it
Dante is often quoted (I paraphrase) as finding heaven the hardest to write of all the sections of his Divine Comedy. I wonder if the writer Talbot had similar difficulties on certain sections of this exuberant popular history of one of my favorite cities, San Francisco during the sixties and seventies. His writing about the utopian early hippie days and an attempt at redemption in an effective stint at mayor by Diane Feinstein and a good 49ers season (I did find the section on the city’s respon ...more
Aug 15, 2016 Jon rated it really liked it
Every San Fransican needs to read this book to understand the tumult our city has endured to get where it is is today. Spectacular writing of the 60s (and before), The role of the Dead in the Haight Ashbury, the importance of music to the city, Jonestown, the early days of the AIDS epidemic, and the details of the rise of so many characters in the SF landscape including Harvey Milk, Diane Feinstein, Mayors Moscone, Alioto. A romping, rough ride through the history of SF. Wonderful.
Apr 21, 2015 Kristen rated it it was amazing
One of the greatest history accounts I have read on the turbulent past of SF in the mid to late 20th century. Recommended to all those fascinated with the city of San Francisco. A great history of the key players who aided in developing the liberal nature of the city, it's culture of acceptance, and the model it served for the rest of the world. Loved!
Jabiz Raisdana
I loved every page of this book and often stayed up later to get more. I am sad that it is over, because there is so much more I want to learn about my amazing city. What a place. What people. What what crazy stories in one of America's greatest cities.

Season of the Witch is an engaging, interesting overview of San Francisco during two very turbulent decades. David Talbot takes readers through twenty years of history in a city that’s undergone massive change and social turmoil, highlighting the lives of the city’s most colorful inhabitants. The chapters are short - great for commuting - and vary from stories about criminal cases, like the Zebra Murders, to the rise of the Cockettes.

I really vacillated between three and four stars on this one.
Justin Sorbara-Hosker
Won’t blow you away with style, but well put together and researched. The amount of story in the subject he has chosen (and the time span he chose to cover) makes it surprising that this came in under 500 pages at all – which may be why he left out Zodiac, & the ’89 earthquake. Hippies, Patty Hearst, drugs, bikers, Altamont, racial tension, Jonestown, birth of gay rights, murder, politics - and more. Solid reporting and storytelling; probably essential reading for fans of this city.

Bob H
Mar 25, 2016 Bob H rated it it was amazing
A fast-moving and concise history of San Francisco -- The City -- during a vivid, terrible, and pivotal time in its history, from 1967, the time of the Summer of Love, through 1982 and the start of the AIDS epidemic, which would devastate the City. "The nonstop party that was San Francisco seemed to end overnight." Even before 1982, we read of momentous and sometimes-dreadful events: the end of the hippie era, the rise of impresario Bill Graham, the musical influence the City would have on the n ...more
Mar 31, 2013 Wayne rated it it was amazing
Thank you to my friend Terri Pilate for recommending this extremely engaging and brilliantly told non-fiction book about a short few decades of San Francisco history. It's a period between the 60's and 80's and one I thought I knew very well--having lived in the SF Bay Area for most of that time. I actually learned quite a lot I didn't know, and was able to understand that period of my life a whole lot better. If you remember Moscone, Milk, Bil Graham, Herb Cain, Patty Hearst, Janis Joplin, the ...more
Ray Campbell
May 20, 2013 Ray Campbell rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-2013
Realy, realy, realy good! Talbot takes the reader from the summer of love through the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s covering everything from the Grateful Dead to the murder of Harvey Milk. The book shows that while songs and popular culture accounts romanticize the "City of Love", the reality of modern San Fransisco is the result of cultural, political and social revolution. Interestingly, Talbot refers to the book as a love letter to the city before launching into the dark side - the murder, mayhe ...more
Jul 14, 2013 Josie rated it really liked it
Talbot produces a fairly convincing argument in his book that San Francisco's tumultuous modern history, starting from the 1920s through the 1980s, was the result of a continual clash of two forces--the conservative, predominately immigrant Irish and Italian Catholic communities that worked its way into city government and the police, and those that felt oppressed by their values or network, whether that be the youth, ethnic or gay communities--and that their result paved the way for a more incl ...more
Feb 28, 2013 Spiros rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: All San Franciscans
"...It seems a lifetime, or at least a Main Era - the kind of peak that never comes again. San Francisco in the middle sixties was a very special time and place to be a part of. Maybe it meant something. Maybe not, in the long run...but no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that corner of the world. Whatever it meant...
There was madness in any direction, at any hour. If not across the Bay, then up the Golden Gate or
Sep 05, 2015 Kkraemer rated it really liked it
This is a socio-political history of San Francisco from 1967 (the "Summer of Love") through the late '80's, arguably the most interesting times in the most interesting city anywhere. Talbot begins by writing about the old guard of San Francisco, the political establishment drawn from Irish and Italian roots and the various parochial schools, and how it responded to thousands and thousands of young people making their way to live in peace and freedom on the streets and in the parks of San Francis ...more
Jun 30, 2013 Florence rated it it was amazing
This is not an ordinary history of San Francisco. It makes the years beginning with the 1960's Summer of Love through the 1980's AIDS epidemic come alive. San Francisco, long known as a bastion of personal freedom, also has a more traditional side that holds conservative values. At times, the blue collar police and fire fighters, religious catholics, and those repulsed by too much freedom held political power. They are a strange contrast to the drag queens and bizarre characters who parade in th ...more
Oct 24, 2012 Cheryl rated it it was amazing
I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in San Francisco and California history, or anyone who lived through the 60's and 70's and considered themselves part of that generation of cultural and political rebels. I grew up in the SF Bay Area and was 13 years old in the summer of 1968. I went to the Haight Ashbury with a group of girlfriends, chaperoned by my father, who waited nearby. We thought we were so cool in our baggy jeans and tie dye shirts, but also felt the dangerous, down and ...more
Feb 07, 2014 Elaine rated it really liked it
I wasn't planning to read this, but when my friend Eileen lent it to me and let me know that the first chapter was all about the family of a dear friend of mine (the late Vivian Hallinan), I decided to have a look -- and I am so glad I did. In a fast-paced reportorial style, David Talbot takes you through some of the most frightening events in San Francisco history -- the descent of the Summer of Love into drugs and mayhem in the Haight, Jim Jones and the Jonestown massacre, the assassination of ...more
Dec 23, 2012 John rated it it was amazing
This is an outstanding book. It takes you far beyond Herb Caen's three dot journalism and Armistead Maupin's Tales (although both of those authors are worthy studies). The vibrancy of San Francisco, its eccentricity and colorful weirdos are all laid out here in compelling portraits and anecdotes. After tracing the old leftist heritage of the City by the Bay, the book focuses on the period between the Summer of Love in the Sixties, up through the Hearst kidnapping, the Moscone/Milk murdrs, the Jo ...more
May 27, 2012 judy rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, history
It helps if you are old enough to remember the Summer of Love. Even better if you can recite Ginsberg's "Howl". Since I qualify for both, this book was absolutely stunning. This is a brief but riveting history of San Francisco between 1967 and 1982. No doubt you'll have heard something about many of the news stories but, unless you lived there or followed SF news meticulously, you won't understand the context. I kept finding myself surprised by how all the seemingly separate events were actually ...more
Jun 19, 2015 Monica rated it it was amazing
Every so often I found myself getting hung up on the titles of the chapters of this book (was it just me or were some of the titles just straight-up puns?) and how it was organized (a discussion of the AIDS virus appears under the section titled "Deliverance"?), but once I got past that part, this book was relentlessly good. From one person to another, "Season of the Witch" reads like a veritable 'who's who' of San Francisco from 1960-1990 (and dips quickly back into the 1940's, too). You can te ...more
Feb 17, 2014 Art rated it it was amazing
Grew up in The City, came of age in the Hashbury in the 50'6 and 60's, moved out in '68 and never looked back. Missed all of this that Talbot captures so deliciously that it is as though I never left. Recommended reading for all of you who lived through it and for all of you who think you know what really went on during those years. Until you read this concise, thorough, and awe full recollection of the 20 years from '67 through '87, you'll remain in the dark, hitting a magnum doobie and being c ...more
Savannah Pine
Apr 19, 2016 Savannah Pine rated it did not like it
I may be elitist, but I thought people who write history know that they need to present an argument and to cite their evidence. Though, Talbot is a step above Rick Perlstein, another American historian (and I use that term extremely loosely), because he has a bibliography. This book is sloppy. Talbot name-drops and event-drops throughout the entire thing. He rarely explains who someone is, what an event is, and why any of it matters. He also assumes that his reader knows everything that happened ...more
May 04, 2015 tk rated it liked it
This was our all-school summer read, and I'm glad I had to read it. Even though I've lived in SF since 1998, I didn't know some of the stories like Altamont, or Jim Jones' place in the political fabric of SF, or the Zebra murders. I learned a lot more about Mascone, too. While I'm thankful I read the book, I found Dalbot's very subjective and biased voice quite irritating at times. His inclusion of some details that seem very indulgent and exclusion of details that I would have thought more rele ...more
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“And this is as good a picture as any of how counterculture communities like the Haight took care of the war’s mangled souls: a doctor from a hippie clinic carrying a dying, emaciated soldier in his arms. For decades after the war, up to this very day, right-wing politicians and pundits have spread the libel about how peace activists and hippies greeted returning Vietnam vets with gobs of spit and contempt.” 0 likes
“Sister Boom Boom—a half-Catholic, half-Jewish drag queen named Jack Fertig, who wore a whore’s makeup and a nun’s habit and vamped it up with the other political pranksters in the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence—was an especially aggravating thorn in Feinstein’s side. Boom Boom ran a remarkably aggressive campaign against Feinstein during her 1983 reelection bid, under the slogan “Nun of the Above,” eventually winning twenty-three thousand votes.” 0 likes
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